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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Women and Marriage...



Arranged Marriage – Marriage of Convenience – Marriage for Love

There’s been a lot of talk recently about women’s rights, and how we must not lose the ground we’ve gained.

As romance authors, we deal in marriage and ‘matters of the heart’ on a regular basis. In our times, we equate marriage with love and personal choice. But, things have not always been so pleasant for women in the marriage department.



Long ago, many cultures worshiped the great Mother Goddess. She was found all over ancient Europe and known by many names – Venus von Willendorf, Cybelle, and Anu/Danu – to name a few. Goddesses appearing more recently, in the Greek, Irish, Norse and Roman traditions, were often depicted as vibrant, outspoken, free women who were in all ways equal – if not superior – to their male counterparts.

That being said, I've always sensed a darker story attached to Persephone’s abduction. The beautiful young goddess was taken against her will to the Underworld by Hades. She is held captive in the dark, away from the beauty and light of the free world, at the mercy of a man she doesn’t love. Temporary freedom is always contingent upon her return to his dark world. It is the story of the disempowerment of a goddess. 



Some ancient societies respected women more than others. In Ireland between the 7th to 17th Centuries, Brehon law existed. It allowed women more freedom and property rights than most European women enjoyed at the time. A woman could choose her own husband, and decide to divorce him. She was often able to keep her property, and the wealth accumulated during the marriage was split between marriage partners.

The irony is that in the 800s and 900s, Viking raiders invaded Ireland and kidnapped Irish women to sell off as slaves in faraway Muslim countries. Between the Barbary pirates of North Africa and Viking warriors, the coastlines of Ireland and England were frequently plundered. Men, women and children were taken captive and sold into servitude as slaves on the auction blocks of Africa. They were treated as sexual pawns and pack animals. Slavery was a thriving business in those days.



The harsh reality of life in Victorian England one hundred and fifty years ago is that it wasn’t much different from slavery. Florence Fenwick Miller, a midwife who lived from 1854-1935, declared the plight of Victorian women was little more than legal slavery, where a woman was entirely dependent on the whims of a man for decent treatment. A woman’s husband, father, or brother was like her master. She had no say in who she would marry, and any family fortune she inherited became her husband’s property – along with her – no matter how he treated her.



Of course there are exceptions -- there always are -- but few women enjoyed them.

One of the greatest advantages for women in our modern western world is our right to choose our husbands. Most of us marry for love, but some marry for financial reasons, a particular lifestyle, or even to gain entry to a country otherwise off limits. Even then, the woman chooses her mate. And taking this to another level, she can decide to marry another woman now, or live together without marriage, or to remain alone.

The daughters of immigrants from countries where marriage is still traditionally arranged – such as India – have a challenging task. They must often seek a way to juggle old cultural traditions and family expectations with their new world lifestyles. 

We’ve come such a long way. We can pursue love on our terms. 

Please share your thoughts and stories with us today.

7 comments:

Rose Anderson said...

Fantastic post, Gemma. Some of the stuff that went on then and goes on today...you just have to shake your head.

Tina Donahue said...

Loved your post, Gemma! :)

Melissa Keir said...

Great post. Very true that women were often treated as slaves in their own households. What I thought was interesting was that there were Native American tribes that held women in such high esteem that they were allowed to decide if the men could go to battle or war. It was a way to temper the hotheadedness of the men with the cooler thinking of the women who thought about things like the children and food supply.

As the old cigarette commercial said...We've come a long way baby!

Gemma Juliana said...

Rose, your recent post is what got my mind going in this direction. So glad we are here now, and have a voice.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Tina, Glad you enjoyed it!

Gemma Juliana said...

Melissa, so true what you say. I think because Native American tribes respected Earth Mother and revered the goddess as well as the god, they respected their women as well.

Yes, we've come a long way, baby!

Cara Marsi said...

Very interesting, Gemma, thank you. We have come a long way, but sadly, in many parts of the world women are still treated like chattel. I believe aristocratic women in Ancient Rome could own property and and more rights than most women through the ages, but they were subjected to arranged marriages for monetary and political gain. Young women in our country take their rights for granted, and those rights are being chipped away a little at a time. Scary.

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